The mild winter may reduce the autumn harvests of apples but there could be rich pickings in other crops such as figs, HANNAH STEPHENSON reports
This year’s mild winter may lead to reduced fruit crops this autumn with a subsequent rise in prices, according to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).
Most hardy fruit plants need a period of chilling during winter to encourage flowering.
Without this cold effect, evidence shows that crops, including blackcurrants, cherries and some apple types which have a particularly high chilling requirement, may be reduced.
The other potential problem is that if there is not a prolonged cold period, plants will start growing earlier than normal and may flower early too, putting them at a greater risk of damage if there is frost in April and early May.
Early flowering could mean less fruit being set as there may be fewer pollinating insects around. The current cold spell may help but RHS fruit experts suggest that a colder and longer spell is needed to ensure that growth and flowering development is held back.
“We have already seen buds on the trees beginning to swell,” says Jim Arbury, RHS fruit and trials specialist.
“I have noticed that two of our autumn-fruiting raspberries were flowering. This shouldn’t be a problem as the canes will be cut to ground level in February. More worrying is that our blackberry cultivar Silvan is also flowering and is therefore likely to have a reduced crop.”
There’s only a limited amount gardeners can do to reduce the damage.
Arbury advises: “If gardeners have only one or two fruit bushes that have started filling their buds, these can be covered with some horticultural fleece or an old curtain if it looks like there is going to be frost overnight.”
However, what you may lose in apples, you may gain in figs, says Guy Barter, RHS chief horticultural adviser.
“Figs don’t need cold over winter to flower. The fig flowers inside the fruit and a milder winter like this is perfect for them, leading to earlier crops and bigger harvests.”
However, the tips of branches that carry fruit are vulnerable to frost and a potential crop can be ruined during cold weather.
Protect figs in winter by covering the bare branches with a few layers of horticultural fleece or by packing the fan-trained branches with straw. Remove the fleece or packing by the end of May.
Greenhouse fruits such as nectarines and peaches should flower earlier, although they will still be in their dormant state until March, when flowers begin to form.
If you’re new to greenhouse gardening, invest in a thermometer and avoid overheating the glasshouse, but also make sure you take the greatest care to avoid the flowers becoming frosted if there’s a late cold spell.
On warm summer afternoons, open up the greenhouse to let pollinating insects do their work.
If the warm winter followed by late frost hinders your apple harvest, try other types for more success.
Barter advises: “Amateur growers can buy late-flowering cultivars, including Court Pendu Plat, an ancient French dessert variety which flowers at the beginning of May, or the cooking varieties Crawley Beauty, the latest flowering apple, or Edward VII.